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NASCAR Cup Series

David Ragan Opens Up About His Final Two Races

AVONDALE, Arizona — When the checkered flag waves at the conclusion of the Bluegreen Vacations 500 at ISM Raceway, there will only be one event remaining in the 2019 season. In conjunction with that, the series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway will also signify the final race for 14-year series veteran, David Ragan, as a full-time driver.

Although the driver of the No. 38 machine may not have had the most storied career, he’s had a sustainable one. With only two races remaining, the Georgia-native is not overly upset to see his profession as a full-time driver come to an end. His intentions upon walking away are putting an emphasis on spending more time with his wife and children.

“I don’t really have a lot of thoughts or emotions going into my last final races,” Ragan told POPULAR SPEED. “It’s business as usual and obviously we want to finish the year on a good note. We’re going to race hard and race for a good finish.”

The 33-year old is not racing for anything of utter importance in terms of Playoff implications, but he would like to close the year out on a strong note to help Front Row Motorsports learn more about their equipment for the 2020 season.

As Ragan gears up for what will be his final race as a full-time driver at the 1.5-mile oval, he offered kind words about the track and reminisced about a few memories throughout his career at the track formerly known as Phoenix International Raceway.

“This is such a unique racetrack – I really enjoyed coming here when they first had that new layout,” said the Front Row Motorsports driver. “Turns one and two are so different from turns three and four and there’s a lot of great race fans out here. I haven’t really had cars that could’ve won a race here, but I’ve got some top-fives and top-10s in the other divisions. I just remember coming out here and it being a really unique racetrack and having fun.”

While this is the end of the road for Ragan as a full-time driver, he revealed in a press conference at the track that he is not done racing completely. The series veteran expressed interest in running a few races part-time and even alluded to the possibility of filling in for teammate Matt Tifft in the 2020 season if asked.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Ragan Looking for Another NASCAR Cinderella Story

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The DAYTONA 500 at Daytona International Speedway is this Sunday February 17, and experts are bound to start making predictions on who will win the Great American Race. With favorites to possibly emerge after the Gander RV Duels, there’s also a darkhorse to keep in mind.

David Ragan will be piloting the No. 38 SelectBlinds.com Ford Mustang for Front Row Motorsports once again this season. With drivers excited about the new Mustang, expect the success that has been carried in past plate races to continue at Daytona this upcoming weekend. 

A driver like Ragan is a perfect match for the Cinderella story of this year’s DAYTONA 500. While Front Row Motorsports may seem underfunded compared to their counterparts, the veteran knows how to get the job done. He has two career wins in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, both at restrictor plate tracks. His first being at Daytona in the summer of 2011 and his second at Talladega Superspeedway in the spring of 2013.

“That year in 2011 we work close to the front and we made it work. You can’t get caught up in racing, 500 miles is a long race here,” Ragan said during DAYTONA 500 Media Day. “It feels so much longer than the Coke 400. Its 100 miles longer but it feels like its 300 or 400 miles longer so you’ve got to pace yourself to the end.”

With the Gander RV Duels coming up on Thursday night, Ragan looks to improve his starting position after qualifying 23rd on Sunday. Ragan will be participating in the second Duel starting in the middle of the pack in the 11th position.

With the DAYTONA 500 opening the year, it becomes  special because you don’t know what to expect from drivers since it’s the first race of the season. New faces can emerge in making a name for themselves and every driver feels like they have a shot at winning the event.

“I think we’ll have a good enough car that we can we can get up front at some point,” Ragan said. “It’s just a matter of when are you in the front of the pack. It’s a big cycle at speedway racing. The leaders get shuffled to the back, the guys in the middle can get shuffled to the front based off of strategy and making good decisions on the racetrack so you’ve just got to make sure that you’re on the right cycle at the end of the race at the right time and to dodge the wrecks.”

Ragan sounded confident during Media Day on Wednesday, and that  should in return have people keeping an eye on him to be a dark horse on Sunday during the Great American Race.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Front Row Motorsports Finalizes Two-Car Line-Up

Front Row Motorsports is hoping a new driver, along with heightened manufacture support, allow them to reach the next level.

The Bob Jenkins-owned organization announced on Thursday that David Ragan will remain with the team, and be joined by Michael McDowell. 

“Ford has been a great partner for us for the past eight seasons, and we’ve agreed to work together to step up our program quite a bit,” Jenkins said. “We’ve got a lot vested in our partnership – relationships, knowledge, data – that we’re going to build on to make improvements both in the shop and at the track.

“David has been a great team member for us in his years with Front Row, both on and off the track. And Michael is a great addition to our team. I’ve been impressed with his talent watching him over the years and excited that he’ll be representing us and our partners next season.”

This will mark Regan’s fifth year with the team after earning them their first career victory in 2013 at Talladega Superspeedway. In 12 seasons of competition, he has two wins and 39 top-10 finishes.

“Bob Jenkins and I have developed a good relationship over the years, both professionally and personally,” Ragan said. “I believe in this team and am proud to have been part of its growth and its successes. I’m excited that Bob and Ford have agreed to take the program to the next level, and I’m happy I’ll be here to help the team continue to grow.”

McDowell joins the team after spending the last four seasons with Leavine Family Racing, earning a career-best fourth-place finish at Daytona in July. The 32-year-old has been involved in the sport for 10 years, winning the ARCA Re/MAX Series Rookie of the Year in 2007.

“Since I first drove for Bob at Watkins Glen, we’ve kept in touch and have felt like there might be an opportunity to work together again, and the timing worked out perfectly,” McDowell said. “It’s been a while since I’ve had a teammate, so I’m really looking forward to working with David, whom I’ve become pretty good friends with over the years. As a team now, we go into the season knowing we have five or six races that put us in position to get a win and earn a spot in the playoffs.”

The team also stated that they have elevated their partnership with Ford Performance, including an expanded technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing.

Front Row Motorsports added that the crew chief line-up has yet to be finalized, and will be announced in the coming weeks, along with sponsorship and driver number details.

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NASCAR Cup Series

ASHLEY ASKS…..David Ragan

David Ragan enters this weekend’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Orton’s 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in hopes of his third top-10 of 2017.

The Front Row Motorsports driver took some time to speak with Popular Speed’s Ashley McCubbin about his thoughts on the year so far.

PS: How would you characterize your season so far?

DR: We’ve had an okay first half of the season. We’ve had a few great runs, some good runs, and we’ve had some poor days at the race track. It’s up to us to identify some of our weak points, and address them as we move forward throughout the year, and try to minimize mistakes on our behalf to clean up some of the bad days. But I’m proud of our team for the success that we’ve had as we’ve done a lot of good things on and off the race track, but there’s always room for improvement.

PS: Where do you feel your team needs to improve?

DR: I think we can get better with our mile and a half program. That’s always been a weak point for some of the smaller teams, because that’s where every part of racecar – from the body, to the engine, to everything comes into play all together. So we’ve got to continue to maximize our downforce and work on our aerodynamic package, and get our cars to handle a little bit better. With the mile and a half downforce high-speed tracks making up most of the schedule, it’s very important to have that turning that in the right direction.

I think our short track cars and super speedway cars have been pretty competitive, but we can make improvement on our mile and a half cars.

PS: Going back a couple weeks now. Running up front in the final laps at Daytona, what do you feel you could have done differently looking back at that to get the win?

DR: I think that at the end of the race, everybody is really aggressive. I think I could have stayed on the bottom lane and let the 95 (Michael McDowell) and the 17 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) get me pushed out a bit more, but I felt like we were going to have to deal with the top lane and that 13 (Ty Dillon) car. So I don’t think I could’ve done anything different. Looking at the scenario again, I would have made the same move because my car performed a little bit better on the top lane and when I went to block the 13, I felt that was the best move at the time. 

PS: You’ve always been good on the plate tracks, though. What is the secret to the success?

DR: I don’t really know. I’ve had great cars throughout the years, which makes my job easier. I enjoy going to the plate tracks with the different dynamic for strategy and racing in the draft. There’s things that I do in preparation for the weekend, perhaps, but not a whole lot different. Sometimes you’ve just got certain types of tracks that you’re most comfortable and your decisions end up playing out well.

PS: Are there any tracks coming up that you are excited for more so than others?

DR: Well, I always prefer the short tracks. I like the late summer schedule with Bristol, and also going back to Richmond right before the Chase. It’s always a lot of fun heading into the Chase with Darlington right there, too. That last August stretch is always fun.

PS: What’s the best advice that a fellow driver has given you, and what driver gave that to you?

DR: I’ve had so many good pieces of advice from other drivers, teammates over the years. I’ve been teammates with Hall of Famers back at Roush (Fenway) Racing, and then when I was subbing for Kyle (Busch) at Joe Gibbs Racing. I don’t think there’s one thing that stands out, but probably the best advice came from Mark Martin.

I was a rookie in the truck series, and he was in his final season at Roush. His work ethic and the knowledge that he had about his racecar was very good, and some of the things that we were able to discuss helped me out. I wish I had a few more years to work with Mark before he left and transferred to another team. 

David Ragan will be looking to score his third top-10 of 2017 this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He has been strong at the magic mile in the past, posting a seventh-place finish in 2011.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Kenseth, Logano Among Those Crashed Out with Tire Issues

With the temperature at 95 degrees in the desert, the fans and drivers weren’t the only ones victim of the heat. Brake temperature was high as well, resulting in some melted beads and blown tires for drivers.

The problems first surfaced on Lap 97 as Corey LaJoie made contact with the wall in turn one. LaJoie was already running deep in the running order as a result of contact with the wall on Lap 28 virtue of contact from Reed Sorenson.

The second incident happened on Lap 191 when Matt Kenseth blew a tire, resulting in substantial contact with the outside wall. He had been running just outside of the top-10 at the time.

“We just blew a front tire,” he said. “We kind of struggled with our Tide PODS Camry most of the day. We got a little bit better that run, but we weren’t handling the way we needed to for sure and just ended up failing a front tire.”

The issues continued throughout the race as with 108 laps to go, David Ragan cut a left rear tire, going around and taking Gray Gaulding to the wall with him. Ragan’s tire wasn’t as a result of excessive heat, though.

Trevor Bayne is the one that is kind of to blame,” Ragan said. “He tried to wreck Danica (Patrick) three of four consecutive laps. He was driving over his head and all over the race track. I was kind of a result of their shenanigans. They were bouncing off each other, and I tried to go low and actually made contact with Matt DiBenedetto and had a tire rub and was going to come in that lap. Just cut our tire.

“I am proud of our Jacob Companies Ford Fusion team. They worked hard, and we had a decent car today. We struggled some on Friday and Saturday but we made some good gains, and you will have that. We have a lot of racing left this year.”

The caution then flew for a seventh time at Lap 256 as a result of Cole Whitt hitting the wall in turn two due to a flat right front tire.

Joey Logano suffered the fifth tire issue of the day, blowing a tire with six laps to go and hitting the turn one wall. After leading early in the event, he had worked his way back to the top-10 following a pit road penalty in the second stage.

“The brakes are fine; we just blew a right front,” he said. “Probably just overheated the bead. I am sure that is what it was. There is not much you can do when the right front blows out. We had a good car in the beginning of the race and then just fell off and got a pit road speeding penalty, and it was hard to get back up there. We were getting closer but out long run speed was off. We have to figure out how to get faster here on the long run.”

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Ragan Returning, Cassill Remaining With Front Row

After stints between Joe Gibbs Racing, the now-defunct Michael Waltrip Racing, and BK Racing, David Ragan is returning to Front Row Motorsports to drive the No. 38 in 2017.

Landon Cassill, who drove the No. 38 in 2016, is remaining with FRM but will pilot the No. 34, which was driven by Chris Buescher this past season. Buescher will drive a second entry for JTG Daugherty Racing in 2017.

Ragan last raced for FRM in the 2015 Daytona 500, where he finished 17th. He was then summoned to fill in at JGR for Kyle Busch, who was injured in the XFINITY Series race the day before the 500, in the No. 18 for nine races. Then he moved to MWR’s No. 55, which needed a driver after Brian Vickers was sidelined for ongoing blood clot issues, at Kansas Speedway and stayed there for the rest of the year. He spent all of 2016 at BKR driving the No. 23 Toyota.

Ragan spent three full seasons with FRM from 2012 to 2014 and won in the No. 34 at Talladega Superspeedway in 2013, which was an enormous upset and the first victory for the mid-tier Premier Series organization.

The No. 34 grabbed the checkered flag again in 2016 when Buescher won the rain-shortened Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway in August. Buescher made the Chase and became to the first ever FRM driver to do so.

Cassill, entering his seventh full-time season, is still in search for his first win. The 2016 campaign was his best season in NASCAR’s top series after finishing 29th in the standings, averaging a 26th-place finish, and leading a career-high 20 laps at Bristol Motor Speedway in the spring.

FRM will continue its technical alliance with Ford team Roush Fenway Racing and its engine program with Roush Yates Engines for the upcoming season.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Buescher Sets Sights on Clinching Chase Spot

The goal of the current Chase for the Sprint Cup format is to place an emphasis on winning. Reaching Victory Lane in the first 26 races essentially guarantees a driver a spot in the playoffs and the ability to contend for a championship, provided they are in the top 30 in points.

Chris Buescher’s miraculous victory at Pocono has now placed his team in playoff contention, a position they likely didn’t imagine themselves in just days before the Pennsylvania 400.

Now that the most difficult part is over, the next step is to crack the top 30 in points. Currently, Buescher sits 31st, six points behind David Ragan, who scored FRM’s first victory when he won at Talladega in 2013. Now Buescher will battle the No. 34 car’s former driver as he hopes to achieve another milestone for the organization.

FRM lacks the resources of many larger Sprint Cup organizations which makes it difficult to compete with the speed of the perennial Chase contenders. However, all the 2015 XFINITY Series champion will need to do in the next five races is outperform the cars closest to him in points.

This won’t be a stretch for the No. 34 team as they have shown promise at times in 2016. The week before winning at Pocono, Buescher scored his best finish of the season at Indianapolis by coming home 14th. 

In the first half of the year, Buescher captured two top-20 results. He finished 18th at Dover in May and came home 20th at Michigan in June. The good news? Michigan is among the final five regular season races. As is Bristol, where Buescher finished 21st in April.

Next on the schedule is Watkins Glen, which was one of the six Sprint Cup events Buescher competed in last season. While he finished a disappointing 37th, he gained valuable experience on the course which will benefit him this weekend. In six road course starts in the XFINITY Series, Buescher has four top 10s and earned his first career win at Mid-Ohio in 2014.

Darlington will be another challenge on the road to the Chase. However, Buescher finished fifth in the XFINITY Series race last year and has experience competing at the track “Too Tough to Tame.”

The rookie has three top-10 finishes in the XFINITY Series at Richmond, host of the regular season finale. In his first Sprint Cup start at the track in April, he ended up 34th.

Despite being just six points out of Chase contention and Buescher having experience at every track left in the regular season, there’s still almost no room for error. But as long as Buescher doesn’t have a repeat performance of the four-race stretch prior to Indianapolis, where he recorded a best finish of 29th, it’s reasonable to expect him to take FRM to the Chase for the first time.

And once the rookie cracks the top 30, he’ll make life that much more difficult for drivers on the bubble. Kyle Larson currently occupies the final spot on the Chase Grid, 20 points ahead of Kasey Kahne. With Buescher sneaking into a Chase position, Larson would need to make up 19 markers on teammate Jamie McMurray and make it all but impossible for any driver behind Larson to reach the postseason without a win.

This underdog story has added a new twist to the Chase picture and will increase the urgency among many teams ahead of the playoffs.

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Categories
XFINITY

LEE: Daytona Finish Shows Consistent Inconsistency

For the third time in as many restrictor plate races in 2016, the NASCAR Xfinity Series had a controversial finish in Friday’s Subway Firecracker 250 at Daytona.

After taking the white flag, Aric Almirola led the field down the backstretch for the last time when all hell broke loose. David Ragan, subbing for Matt Tifft in the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, was turned sideways after contact with Jeff Green as the pair raced for fifth in the outside line.

The contact forced Ragan into the outside wall and collected several other cars, including Darrell Wallace Jr., Ryan Ellis and J.J. Yeley. With chaos erupting behind the leaders, NASCAR chose to not throw the caution flag, giving way to what looked like would be another thrilling side-by-side finish at Daytona.

However, as Justin Allgaier and Almirola raced in a dead heat out of Turn 4, NASCAR elected to display the yellow, freezing the field less than a mile from the finish line. Replays shown by NBC Sports made it too close to call for some, but after several minutes of review, NASCAR declared Almirola the winner.

If this feels familiar, it should. At Talladega, NASCAR had a similar situation when Brennan Poole took the checkered flag first, but Elliott Sadler was correctly ruled the winner after replay showed him in first place as the yellow flag waved due to a crash in the tri-oval.

Friday night’s finish was yet another example of NASCAR making things much harder than they need to be, inexplicably complicating the finish of another superspeedway race. In fact, all NASCAR needed to do was throw the caution as soon Ragan was sideways in front of oncoming traffic and there would be no controversy, and Almirola would still be celebrating in victory lane without a senseless replay.

Instead, they seemingly chose to wait it out, to see exactly how the crash was going to unfold, and if no one was injured, allow the leaders to race back to the finish. That’s fine until the what-if moment happens, as was the case when Ellis radioed to his team that he needed some medical assistance.

At that moment, NASCAR had no choice but to throw the caution to get help sent to Ellis as soon as possible. The finish left fans, media and drivers confused as they all waited for NASCAR to declare a winner. Following the race, Ellis’ mother tweeted that he had been suffering from dehydration.

Friday’s race had it all: three-wide racing, crashes, fuel strategy and a number of underdog drivers and teams near the front of the field in the closing laps. But it also had more inconsistency from NASCAR, which might be the only thing that’s consistent at Daytona.

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Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Whirlwind Season Could End with David Ragan in the Chase

TALLADEGA, Ala. — By the end of the season, David Ragan will have driven for two different manufacturers, three different teams and will have worked with seven different teammates — an unprecedented scenario in the recent history of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

And through it all, this wacky season could end with him in the playoffs and in the hunt for his first career championship.

The season turned upside down for Ragan in the days after the Daytona 500 when Joe Gibbs Racing asked the 29-year-old veteran to fill in for Kyle Busch in the storied No. 18 car after its primary driver was injured in the XFINITY Series race the day before the Great American Race.

While it’s never a good thing when a driver is forced to the sidelines due to injury, the incident came at an ideal time for Ragan who wasn’t sure if he had the funding needed to run the full season at Front Row Motorsports, where he has driven since the 2012 season.

As a result of the circumstances, Ragan finds himself in the thick of the playoff race, running as high at 10th two weeks ago before disappointing outings at Bristol and Richmond. Nevertheless, Ragan has enjoyed his return to the spotlight and doesn’t have a problem moving on to MWR after this race as opposed to later on in the season when Busch is ready to come back.

“I think timing is everything and it’s so much more important for me to have an opportunity going forward with a full-time car, with a very competitive organization like Michael Waltrip Racing than it would be for me to run a few more races before Kyle’s return,” Ragan said. “Ultimately, I always knew that this was just going to be a couple of months – a three-month deal – until Kyle gets back.

“For me the big picture is the entire season and finishing the season and having a real chance at being competitive going forward and having a shot to make the Chase.”

Ragan only drove for two teams in his first eight Sprint Cup Series seasons in Roush Fenway Racing and Front Row Motorsports. He admitted that the Musical Chairs from FRM to Gibbs to Waltrip has been “a little weird” this season.

“Then the Joe Gibbs Racing deal happened and just trying to meet their people and understand how they do things and their way of running through a race weekend and learning the guys’ names on the team,” Ragan. “I think just this weekend I’ve finally gotten everyone’s name down and so that process has got to start all over again, but I tell you the Gibbs organization has been great as far as including me as a part of their team.

Of course, it helped that Ragan previously worked alongside Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth during their previous tenure at Roush but Ragan also praised Denny Hamlin for helping his brief transition into Gibbs go as smoothly as possible.

“Denny’s been a very good teammate and has been really helpful at a lot of tracks that he’s really good at, but going forward the Michael Waltrip Racing guys appear to be the same way as the Joe Gibbs Racing teams.”

While he is leaving a championship winning organization now in Gibbs, his move over to Michael Waltrip Racing is certainly a step up from Front Row Motorsports. Without knowing what the long term plan is for the No. 55 car with primary driver Brian Vickers indefinitely sidelined from competition, Ragan knows this could be his final chance to prove that he belongs in a top-tier ride that is capable of making the playoffs and contending for championships.

“For me, you never lose that desire to be a champion or a very competitive person in this sport…,” Ragan said. “Certainly, there are teams in this garage that have the resources and the financial backing to be competitive and win and then there’s teams that don’t.”

Ragan praised NASCAR for doing “an incredible job of keeping the playing field level,” but understood that to win races and consistently run near the top-10, he has to capitalize on this opportunity with Gibbs and Waltrip for the remainder of the season.

“I’m 29 years old (and) I’ve just never lost the drive to continue to get better and work as hard as I can,” Ragan said. “And whatever opportunities are in front of me, I just try to make the best of it.”

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NASCAR Cup Series

Lap 311 Crash Eliminates Kevin Harvick and David Ragan

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Jimmie Johnson and Jeb Burton spun in Turn 1 on lap 311 on Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway igniting an incident that ended the day for Kevin Harvick and David Ragan.

Harvick had led 184 laps prior to the incident and was running third at the time when Johnson, Burton and Ragan spun in front of him.

Johnson, a lap down and in position for the free pass, appeared to get impatient behind Burton and lightly tagged his left rear quarter panel. The contact sent both drivers spinning in opposite directions and Ragan, with nowhere to go, plowed into Burton. Harvick riding behind all three couldn’t ease off the throttle fast enough time and ran right into the prone Ragan No. 18 Toyota.

Ragan was outside the top-25 and two laps down and simply said that this is the sort of thing that happens when deep in the pack.

“Sometimes when you race back there with the squirrels, you find the nuts sometimes,” Ragan said on the TV broadcast. “But that’s just Bristol. You’re racing hard, (Burton) was a little slower, and Jimmie’s probably a little impatient trying to get back to the front and he just touched him there.

“As soon as my spotter said they’re wrecking, I’m into (Johnson).”

Burton says he knew Johnson needed to get by but that there was nowhere on the track to go to allow it to happen.

“We were just on our own lap and felt like our car was getting better throughout the night,” Burton said. “There’s nowhere to go here. You’re holding up lead lap cars and you’re trying to get out of the way – I guess Jimmie (Johnson) just got tight coming off (turn) four and got into me. I thought I had it saved and it ended our night.”

Harvick was one of three Sprint Cup Series drivers who entered the race with seven straight top-10s to enter the season. His incident combined with separate ones that eliminated Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. ensured that no driver will extend that streak to eight.

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